The Toronto Maple Leafs held off a late rally from the hated Ottawa Senators for a 5-4 win Wednesday night, their third in a row, sending the Air Canada Centre crowd home in a happy mood.
The win gave the Maple Leafs sole possession of third place in the NHL's Northeast Division over the Senators and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Considering the Leafs' quick fall from playoff grace last season, these are heady times for their supporters.
But two and a half hours earlier, the 19,412 fans were shown the dark side of the NHL in a graphic demonstration of how ugly and pointless hockey fights can be.
Dave Dziurzynski, a 23-year-old rookie from Lloydminster, Alta., undoubtedly trying to make an impression on Senators head coach Paul MacLean and his teammates of three weeks, made the mistake of taking up a challenge from Leafs winger Frazer McLaren to fight. Television replays showed the pair talking before the puck was dropped and Senators forward Zack Smith, who was on the ice, said later McLaren was the one who issued the challenge after asking which Senators did the fighting.
By the time the game clock stopped at 26 seconds after the opening faceoff, Dziurzynski lay face down on the ice, spread-eagled and unconscious. McLaren had separated Dziurzynski from his senses in less time than it takes to type his name.
The knockout was so sickening to watch, even some of the more rabid enthusiasts of violence took to Twitter to hope Dziurzynski was all right. He wasn't. That much was clear as he was helped to his feet and then guided to the dressing room as a chant of "Go Leafs Go" rose up.
Before the end of the first period, the Senators announced Dziurzynski had a concussion and would not return to the game. There is considerable doubt whether he will ever return to an NHL game.
But even though it was Dziurzynski's first fight in the NHL and McLaren's fifth so far this season, the rookie was hardly a naïf being thrown to the wolves. McLaren, 25, is 6 foot 5 and 230 pounds, pretty much the standard issue for an NHL heavyweight these days, but at 6 foot 3 and 204 pounds Dziurzynski was at least in the same size range.
Plus, a look at Dziurzynski's curriculum vitae shows the only possible reason he was summoned to Ottawa from the Senators' farm team three weeks ago was to hit people. No one took him in the NHL entry draft and the Senators signed him as a free agent almost three years ago.
The Senators press notes list his career highlights as being third among the Binghamton Senators in penalty minutes in 44 American Hockey League games this season with 100. In 191 career AHL games, Dziurzynski had 65 points and 249 penalty minutes.
However, with only five major penalties for fighting in the AHL this season, Dziurzynski is probably more agitator than fighter, something that quickly became evident in his first dance in the NHL as they call it. McLaren quickly and brutally taught the rookie about the nasty side of the game at this level.
It was just the sort of fight that gives those who argue against a fighting ban in hockey fits. It was staged and it was unnecessary.
McLaren is not a pure goon, an admittedly dying species in the NHL. He is a decent enough plugger who can check a bit. But he is still on the team because Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle thought the Leafs needed to be a little tougher and the presence of someone like McLaren stiffens a lot of backbones.
Too often someone like Dziurzynski pays a steep price for the other side of that equation. McLaren said Dziurzynski initially declined his challenge but dropped the gloves when the puck was dropped.
The rookie was not around after the game to answer questions but there is no doubt he engaged McLaren because of the famous NHL "code." Big rookies who earned their call-up by playing a physical game jeopardize their careers by turning away from fights.
This fight certainly didn't fire up the Senators. Within seven minutes, the Leafs had a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Tyler Bozak and Jay McClement.
The Leafs moved ahead 5-2 on goals from James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri and then held off a challenge from the Senators in the final minute. Smith, Mike Zibanejad, Daniel Alfredsson and Colin Greening had the Ottawa goals.
The Senators players and head coach Paul MacLean said the usual things players and coaches do after such one-sided fights. It was no fun to see someone get hurt, etc., and MacLean noted Carlyle gave McLaren all of four minutes and 35 seconds of ice time, including the few seconds it took him to concuss Dziurzynski.
But no one, and that includes the Leafs room, said this sort of thing has no place in hockey.